The first of September, 2017 marks the start of the term for the new bishop of the Virginia Synod, ELCA, The Rev. Robert F. Humphrey. Read on and take some time to get to know Bishop-elect Humphrey, as he answers some of the questions you might have had over the summer following the election!
What has the transition process been like for you since Synod Assembly?
My unexpected election instantly changed the direction of our lives and ministry. The role of Bishop is different in many ways than that of parish pastor. So, I would honestly say it continues to be an exciting, but challenging transition. It will take time.
The process has certainly been made easier by our talented Virginia Synod staff, and the warm hospitality of Bishop Mauney who has been leading me along step by step to a solid start. It is a challenging and amazing process! I trust folks will be patient with me and continue to lift our synod and staff in their prayers.
Saying farewell is always difficult, as I’ve been so blessed in every place of ministry I’ve served, from Zion, pastoral counseling, Grace, and Muhlenberg. Leaving those I have grown to love and my remarkable partner pastor, Brett Davis, is tough. But now, I hold my great excitement at what is before me as bishop of the Virginia Synod.
Where do you plan to live? Where will your office be located?
The Bishop’s Office will remain in Bittle Hall on the campus of Roanoke College in Salem Virginia. But, because much of my ministry will be spent in the Synod’s territory, Barbra and I will continue to live in Harrisonburg. I will be in the Synod Office as much as needed, but otherwise I’m looking forward to meeting and serving with people where they live, work and worship.
What would you say is the biggest difference between you and Bishop Mauney? In what ways are you similar?
In many ways we’re very similar. He may be taller than I am…(smile), but we come out of the same era and place of education. We both graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in the 1970s. Actually, Jim was part of the move-in crew that helped my wife Barbra and I move into seminary housing in our first year. So now he’s helping move me in again… history repeating itself forty years later! We both have also lived and served almost our entire ministry in Virginia.
On the other hand, Bishop Mauney and I obviously have different personalities, and we undoubtedly have any number of differences in the ways in which we think, work and interact with others. I’m sure to have a different approach, and a different style and I will have some different objectives and goals as I enter the office. I am hopeful those differences will bring exciting new opportunities for ministry and mission.
What do you plan to do at Youth Events?
That is another one of the ways in which I am NOT like Bishop Mauney! I could never pull off the talent and skill he has with music, and performing “Pharaoh Pharaoh.” But Pastor Dave Delaney and I are planning ways for me to still have fun. I have a long history and love for Virginia Synod youth ministry. After all, Barbra and I met at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp in 1975, serving on staff with folks like Chip Gunsten and Paul Henrickson! I will be a strong advocate of youth ministry and events as Bishop. So, toward that end, let me add that I hope every member of our synod will contribute generously to the ForwardingFaith Campaign!
What do you like to do for fun?
I love spending time with family. Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are amazing! I like to hang out with Barbra. We like to read, especially good mysteries. We are fans of British TV shows. I am a lifelong fan and stockholder of the Green Bay Packers. Barbra is a wonderful cook and we enjoy good food and love traveling.
I served as an intern at Hothorpe Hall in England from 1979 to 1980 and that time was incredibly formative for me. We returned for a summer sabbatical in Cambridge, England where I studied renewal efforts within The Church of England in 1997. We also spent 3 months in Mexico in 2004. We have traveled to South Africa and visited our daughter and her family in the Congo. Having the chance to travel and explore new places around the Commonwealth, nation, and the world has been amazing and so much fun. I look forward to more of those opportunities in the years ahead.
What aspects of the role of Bishop are you most looking forward to?
Learning to better know and serve with the rostered ministers, congregations, institutions and agencies of our synod. I’m already amazed by the incredible gifts and variety of ministries that are going wonderfully well across our synod.
I also look forward to the challenges of helping shape a future for our church that finds new ways to effectively proclaim the Gospel, support vibrant ministries and congregations, and serve the people most vulnerable and victimized in our world.
How do you plan to stay connected in person and online with the Virginia Synod?
Well, for one thing, once I start, I plan to be present on Instagram and Twitter. You can find me @BishopBHumphrey on both Twitter and Instagram. I really do want to help people stay connected to the Office of the Bishop, including through social media. Stay tuned… we will try to keep folks posted.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’d say I work to be collegial. I believe when others are invited and empowered to help develop shared objectives, goals and tasks, the outcomes are far richer and more effective. Working with trusted colleagues, staff, rostered and lay leaders through a variety of channels, I strive to engage people in every level of decision-making and implementation. Developing a strong collegial staff will be an early priority.
That said, I do believe there are times when a leader needs to have the courage and conviction to speak and act boldly and decisively, even when others object or disagree. I pray and trust God will guide and empower us!
What has most surprised you about the Office of the Bishop?
The remarkable variety of challenges and opportunities the Bishop faces on a day to day basis. The biggest challenge is you’re engaging on so many different levels at once. The exciting reality of the church in action unfolds in so many places where people are faithfully serving our Lord, the church, and the world!
What is your vision for the Virginia Synod moving forward?
I believe each expression of our church has a critical and unique role to play in proclaiming the Gospel, equipping the saints and serving the world. It is both more difficult and more crucial in today’s world for the church to be relevant and engaged with our members, communities and the wider church. Every size and expression of the church matters and has a crucial role to play! Our witness really is needed…
I have high hopes and expectations of what God is up to in the Virginia Synod. With a deep connection to the past and a passionate commitment and hope for the future, I want to work to build a bridge from the best of our past to the potential God has in store for our future – a calling that requires faith, skill, and patience.
It is certainly not something that can be accomplished alone or completely. But by God’s grace and with companions for the journey – a “synod,” guided by The Holy Spirit through prayer, the Holy Scriptures, the Confessions of our church and mutual, honest conversation I am confident we will find new and bold ways to serve.